MARK Cooper has heaped praise on Alex Pritchard ahead of the midfielder’s final game for Swindon Town this weekend.
Pritchard will be ineligible for the final game of Town’s League One campaign under the terms of his youth loan from Tottenham Hotspur, meaning the trip to Meadow Lane represents a last hurrah in the red of the Robins.
The England Under 20 international is highly unlikely to return to the County Ground next season but Cooper feels that Pritchard’s spell in Wiltshire has taught him how to live a professional footballer’s life as it should be.
He told the local media: “I think he’s learnt how to live, how to act as a first-team professional. To come into an environment where three points mean everything coming home on the coach on a Saturday evening is different to a development game.
“At the start he found that difficult and week by week he got better and better. The biggest accolade you can get when you come to a club is that you have the respect of your teammates and when he goes away I know his teammates will think ‘I tell you what, that Alex Pritchard was some player’.
“That, for me, is the biggest accolade you can get.”
Pritchard’s disciplinary problems have been widely documented over the course of the campaign, with the diminutive playmaker missing six matches through suspension, but Cooper feels his charge is starting to temper his temperament.
“He’s become less chatty to the referees but more to me,” he said. “I think he’s going to be a decent manager because he’s got plenty to say. All joking aside, he’s been brilliant to work with. Of course he’s had his moments and he’s frustrated spectators sometimes with his dissent but he’s a little lad and when you get kicked that many times I think he feels as though he’s got to say something back.
“He’s learnt the art now of how to wind up opposition players and opposition fans without really getting too involved with them, he just lets his feet do the talking.
“Sometimes I stand on the sideline and, if he’s on my side, I can hear opposition fans shouting at him 30 seconds into the game, desperate to try to wind him up. He just turns around and gives them a little wink and a smile now and I think you can tell how good a player is when fans start doing that.
“He’s come here as an exciting talent and I think he’ll go away being a little bit more of a finished article.
“He’s got more to do and I’m sure when he goes back to Tottenham, Tim and Les and Chris will make him even better. I’m convinced he’ll end up being a really good footballer.”
With eight goals and eight assists, Pritchard was named the second best player in the division at the recent Football League Awards, and Cooper admitted that, if Town are still in with a shout of a play-off finish going into the final week of the campaign, he might be doing some begging at the authorities’ door to allow the midfielder to play against Rotherham United on the last afternoon.
“If we win on Saturday and Peterborough lose then we’ll be doing everything we can,” he said.
“It’s one of those quirks that his birthday comes when it has but we’ll just have to deal with it. We’ve dealt with it all season - we’ve had a lot of issues this year and I’m sure we can get through this one.”